Read an Excerpt
San Francisco, California
Sam and Remi Fargo weaved their way around the tourists crowding the sidewalk. Once they were through the green pagoda-style gateway of Chinatown, the throng much thinner, Remi checked the map on her cell phone. “I have a feeling we took a wrong turn somewhere.”
“To that restaurant,” Sam replied, removing his revered panama hat. “A tourist trap, if I ever saw one.”
She glanced at her husband, watching as he ran his fingers through his sun-streaked brown hair. He stood over a head taller than Remi, with broad shoulders and an athletic build. “I didn’t hear you complaining when they brought out the moo shu pork.”
“Where did we go wrong?”
“Ordering the Mongolian beef. Definitely a mistake.”
“On the map, Remi.”
She zoomed in, reading the streets. “Perhaps the shortcut through Chinatown wasn’t so short.”
“Maybe if you’d at least tell me where we’re going, I could help?”
“It’s the only part of this trip,” Remi said, “that’s my surprise for you. You haven’t even shared what you have planned.”
“For a reason.” Sam put on his hat, and Remi linked her arm through his while they walked. He’d arranged this trip because their last adventure to the Solomon Islands had not been the hoped-for quiet vacation they’d planned. “I promise you nothing but rest, relaxation, and a week of no one trying to kill us.”
“A whole week of downtime,” she said, sidling closer to him as a cloud drifted over the sun, taking with it all the warmth of the early-September afternoon. “Have we had anything like that in a while?”
“Not that I can remember.”
“There it is,” she said, spying the bookstore. The flaking gold-leafed lettering in the window read Pickering’s Used & Rare Books. “Just to show how very much I appreciate you traipsing all this way with me, I won’t make you come in.” Remi was be-ing facetious. Sam’s late father, a NASA engineer, had collected rare books, and Sam, also an engineer, had inherited that same passion.
He eyed the bookstore, then his wife. “What sort of husband would I be if something happened to you in there?”
“Dangerous things, books.”
“Look what they did to your brain.”
The pair crossed the street to the bookstore. A Siamese cat, resting on a stack of volumes in the window, looked up in disdain when a bell tinkled as Sam opened the door for Remi. The place smelled of musk and old paper, and Remi scanned the shelves, at first seeing nothing but used hardcovers and current paperbacks. She hid her disappointment from Sam, hoping they hadn’t made the trip for nothing.
A gray-haired man, wearing gold spectacles, wandered in from the back, wiping his hands on a dusty cloth. He saw them and smiled. “May I help you find something?”
Sam’s phone rang. He took it from his pocket, telling Remi, “I’ll take it outside.”
“Perfect, since this was meant to be a surprise.”
He stepped out, and Remi waited until the door closed firmly behind him before turning to the proprietor. “Mr. Pickering?”
“I was told you had a copy of The History of Pyrates and Privateers.”
His smile faltered for the barest of instances. “Of course. Right over here.”
Pickering led her to a shelf where several identical volumes of Pyrates and Privateers sat. And while they were clearly reproductions, their faux gold-tooled leather binding gave them the appearance of something that might be found in a library centuries before.
He slid a copy from the shelf, used his cloth to wipe the dust from the top of it, then handed it to her. “How did you know we carried this particular volume?”
She decided to keep it vague—not wanting there to be any hurt feelings now that she knew the book was merely a reproduction. “A woman I work with knew of my husband’s interest in lost artifacts and rare books.” She opened the cover, admiring the detail that gave it an antiqued appearance. “It’s a beautiful copy . . . Just not what I was hoping for.”
He pushed his spectacles up onto the bridge of his nose. “It’s popular with interior designers. Less emphasis on lost artifacts and more on decorating a coffee table. I do, on occasion, run across old volumes of historical significance. Perhaps your friend meant the Charles Johnson volumes on A General History of Pyrates? That, I do have.”
“As do we. I was hoping for Pyrates and Privateers to round out our collection. My friend, no doubt, confused the two titles.”
“Who did you say referred you here?”
“Oh. Well, that’s—” A whoosh of air and the tinkling of the bell seemed to startle him, and he and Remi turned toward the door at the same time. Remi, expecting Sam, saw a much shorter, broad-shouldered man silhouetted against the light from the shop’s window.
The bookseller eyed the man, then smiled at Remi. “Let me get the dust off of it and wrap it for you.” And before she could object, tell him she really had no interest in buying a reproduction, he swept the book from her hands. “I’ll be right back.”
Her friend Bree had clearly misunderstood which book her uncle had in his shop. No matter. It was a beautiful copy and would look nice in Sam’s office. He’d certainly appreciate the sentiment, she decided as she turned to browse the shelves while waiting, spying a copy of Galeazzi’s eighteenth-century music treatise. It appeared to be a first edition, and she couldn’t imagine why it was sitting in a simple locked glass case at the front counter.
“Do you work here?” the man asked.
She turned, caught a glimpse of dark hair, brown eyes, and a square-set jaw, as he moved from the backlighting of the window. “I’m sorry. No. He’s in the back. Wrapping a gift for me.”
He nodded, then walked past the aisle out of sight. When Mr. Pickering emerged from the back room, he walked around the counter to the register. The man stood off to one side, his hands shoved into the pockets of his black leather coat. His presence bothered Remi, though for no reason she could determine except perhaps the way he seemed to be watching their every move—and that he never took his hands from his pockets. She didn’t like it when she couldn’t see someone’s hands.
Mr. Pickering slid her brown paper parcel onto the counter, his gnarled fingers shaking slightly. Nerves or age? she wondered.
“Thank you,” she said. “How much do I owe you?”
“Oh. Right. Forty-nine ninety-five. Plus tax. No charge for the gift wrapping.”
Not quite the wrapping she would have chosen. Aloud, she said, “On the good-news front, it’s definitely less than I’d anticipated.”
“Printed in China,” he said, offering her a nervous smile.
She paid him, then tucked the parcel beneath her arm. The Siamese, on its windowed perch by the door, peered over at her, its tail twitching. Remi reached down and petted it, the cat purring, as she stole a glance at the stranger, who hadn’t moved.
He pulled a gun from his coat pocket and pointed it at them. “Lady, you should’ve left when you had a chance. Keep your hands where I can see them.”
Sam finished his phone call with the hotel manager, who confirmed that the champagne on ice and gift for Remi had been delivered to their suite as ordered. Sam checked his watch, then glanced over at the bookstore, wondering what was taking Remi so long. Knowing her, she was probably having a lively discussion on some obscure topic with the bookseller and that customer who’d walked in shortly after. She’d been excited about the prospect of searching for this mystery book—something she was certain he’d want to add to his collection. But, -really, how long could it take to find the thing and pay for it?
Time to urge Remi to shop a little faster or that champagne was bound to be room temperature by the time they made it back. He peered into the window, seeing no one, not even the cat who’d been perched on the books by the door. What he did see was Remi’s purse sitting atop a wrapped parcel on the counter.
Not like her to leave her purse, he thought, and opened the door, the bells jingling as he stepped in. “Remi?”
The shop appeared empty.
He eyed her unattended purse, then walked through the store, looking down each aisle, finally finding her standing in the doorway of what appeared to be an office or storage area at the back of the shop. “There you are.”
“You’re supposed to wait outside. Remember?”
“I found that cookbook I’ve been searching for. The owner’s wrapping it up for me. Now, leave or you’ll ruin your surprise.”
He stared for a second or two, unable to read anything on her face, her green eyes about as expressive as a poker player’s. “I’ll wait outside,” he said. “Don’t be long.”
She smiled sweetly at him, never moving from the doorway. “I won’t.”
He retraced his steps. The door bells jangled overhead as he opened, then shut, the door, remaining inside the store.
While Remi wasn’t exactly a stranger in the kitchen, she often joked that cook was a noun, not a verb.
Come to think of it, he couldn’t recall her ever buying a cookbook, much less searching for one. Definitely not while they were married.
She was in trouble.
Nice time to be without a gun.
Typically, he carried a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum, but they were in San Francisco for fun and so he’d left it on their plane.
Now what? Call 911 and hope the police arrived in time?
Not about to risk his wife’s life, he silenced the ringer on his phone, set his hat on the counter, then quietly began opening drawers, searching for something a little more substantial than his small pocketknife to use as a weapon. He found a folding knife with a four-inch blade. He pulled it open, felt it lock. Decent weight, nicely balanced, point intact, probably used to open boxes, judging by the gumminess on the blade’s edge. Now to get back to that room without being discovered.
He slid his hand into his wife’s purse, found a small makeup bag, and took out a compact mirror. Flipping it open, he wiped the powder residue from the mirror with his pants, then edged his way down the aisle, making sure a row of bookshelves was between him and the door to that storeroom.
“You!” a deep voice shouted.
“Forget the combination again and you die.”
“Forgive me.” Pickering, the bookseller, Sam figured, as he continued down the aisle. “I’m nervous.”
“Please,” Remi said. “There’s no need to wave that gun around.”
“Shut up! You, old man. Get that safe open.”
Sam forced himself to breathe evenly. His wife was in that room, and all he wanted to do was rush in there, save her. But his haste could mean her death. A folding knife against a gunman. It was moments like this he was glad for the weapons-and-security training he’d received during his years at DARPA.
When he reached the end of the aisle, he stopped, used the mirror to peer around the corner.
Light spilled from the doorway of the storeroom onto the gray linoleum floor. Sam kept to the edge, careful not to cast a shadow. Holding the mirror out, he angled it to get a visual into the room.
Relief at the sight of his auburn-haired wife, now seated by a cluttered desk, was short-lived as he angled the compact farther and saw the short, swarthy fellow holding a semiauto to the shopkeeper’s back. The two men stood in front of a large floor safe, the shopkeeper turning the dial. If Sam approached from this position, it put Remi between him and the gunman.
He didn’t like the odds. At the moment, he had no other choice.
C’mon, Remi. Turn. See me . . .
He rocked the tiny mirror back and forth so that the light caught her face. Unfortunately, she looked away, leaning toward the desk, as an audible click indicated the safe had unlocked. Pickering pulled open the door, revealing a smooth wooden box large enough to hold two bottles of wine.
The gunman stepped closer to it. “What’s in the box?”
“An old book. Just an antique.”
“Put it on the desk.”
He complied, placing the box on the desk near Remi.
Sam grasped the handle-heavy knife by its blade, stepped into the doorway, aimed, and threw.
The timing couldn’t have been worse.
At that very moment, Remi jumped from her chair and swung the brass desk lamp against the gunman’s hand. Sam’s knife struck the man’s shoulder. A shot cracked the air as he twisted, his gun flying from his hand.
Sam rushed in. The gunman pushed Pickering onto Remi, then grabbed the box. He slammed it into Sam’s head as he ran past and out the door.
Sam wasn’t sure if it was the jangling of bells as the front door opened or the blow to his head causing the ringing.
“Sam . . . ?”
It was a second before he realized his wife was speaking to him. “Everyone okay?” he asked.
“Are you okay?” she replied.
“Fine . . .” He reached up, touched his head, his fingers covered in blood. “Looks like I came in second.”
Remi set the gun on the desk, then pushed him into the chair she’d been sitting in moments before. Placing both hands on his cheeks, her skin warm, soft, she leaned down, searched his eyes, as if to ensure that he really was okay. “You’re always first in my book. Ambulance?”
She nodded, took a closer look at his head, then turned toward the bookseller, who was using the desk to pull himself to his feet. “Mr. Pickering. Let me help you.”
“I’m fine,” the old man said. “Where’s Mr. Wickham?”
“Mr. Wickham?” Remi asked.
“My cat. Wickham . . . ? Here, kitty, kitty . . .” A moment later, the Siamese wandered into the storeroom, and Pickering scooped it up.
“Well, then,” Remi said, “everyone accounted for. Time to call the police.”
Pickering eyed the phone as she put the receiver to her ear. “Is that necessary?” he asked.
“Very,” she replied, pressing 911 on the keypad.
The police arrived about five minutes later, sirens blaring, even though she told them the robber had left.
One of the officers drew Sam aside to take his statement. When he’d finished, the officer asked Sam to show him where the gunman had been standing when his weapon discharged. Sam positioned himself next to the desk, then demonstrated the man’s movement as Remi bashed his hand with the lamp. The officer stood where Sam stood, looking around. “And where were you when you threw the knife?”
“In the doorway.”
“Stand there, please.”
Sam did so.
The officer walked over, placed his finger on the doorframe. “Here’s where the bullet hit.”
Sam looked over, realized it was just a few inches from his head. “My lucky day.”
“Mr. Fargo. While I commend your actions, in the future might I suggest you call the police?”
“If this happens again, I’ll make sure to do that.”
More often than not, he knew Remi would take the proactive approach.
It was one of the many things he loved about her, he thought, glancing toward the front of the store. She had already given her statement and was waiting patiently by the door.
A plainclothes investigator, Sergeant Fauth from the Robbery Detail, arrived and was questioning Mr. Pickering, who seemed distracted—understandable, considering his age and the circumstances. He opened the still-unlocked safe as the investigator asked, “Was anything else taken?”